Definitive Guide: How to Choose the Perfect Snowshoes for Your Needs

The snowshoe market is flooded with many snowshoe options, making it difficult to decipher how to find the perfect pair for you. It can be easy to choose the first or only pair and then end up with a pair that doesn’t meet their needs.

So, we stand by one simple principle – buying your first pair of snowshoes should not turn into an agonizing decision-making process. Thus, to help you with your shopping, we decided to put together a definitive guide so you can learn how to choose the perfect snowshoes for your needs.

In this guide, we cover how to choose snowshoes by considering:

Type of Terrain Where You’ll Be Snowshoeing
Snow Conditions
What the Features Do
How to Choose the Correct Size

man on snowshoes with trees in background smiling in deep snow

We want you to have a happy snowshoe experience and one way to ensure a good time is to choose the right snowshoes for your outing! Photo: Susan Wowk

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The Terrain

Snowshoes are built with different features that help the snowshoe navigate certain types of terrain. To learn how to choose your snowshoe, know that over time modern snowshoes have been classified into three main groups.

Hiking Snowshoes

Hiking snowshoes are also known as recreational snowshoes. These are very popular among novice trackers or those interested in navigating relatively unchanging, stable terrain. These types of snowshoes usually have several standard features – a simple traction system and webbing-based bindings.

Hiking snowshoes are suitable for flat terrains and rolling hills and typically have some form of “trail” or “hike” in the name or description. Due to their simple features, these snowshoes are among the most affordable ones.

Some examples of modern hiking snowshoes include:

MSR Revo Trail or Evo Trail
Chinook Trekker
Redfeather Hike
Tubbs Xplore (Women’s)
TSL Tour

Traditional wooden snowshoes typically come with simple features and are excellent for navigating flat terrain. The Huron (also great for deep snow) excels on flat and rolling terrain, and the Ojibwa is great for carrying heavy loads on flat ground.

Read More:
Chinook Trekker Snowshoes: Perfect for Beginners
Explore the World with the Tubbs Xplore Snowshoe

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man and woman on snowshoes on Boreas Pass Rd, Breckenridge

On the left, she wears GV Cat Trail snowshoes for the relatively flat terrain. On the right, he wears Northern Lites Backcountry snowshoes, great for the deep snow off-trail. Photo: The Wowks

Running/ Fitness Snowshoes

With snow workouts becoming immensely popular, it should be no surprise to stumble upon running snowshoes during your snowshoe browsing. These snowshoes are designed to support any fitness activity on the snow.

Running snowshoes are intended for those who prefer packed snow and groomed terrains. Compared to regular snowshoes, these are narrower and shorter to increase mobility and speed in the snow. Plus, the smaller the snowshoe, the less weight, which is helpful when running or snowshoe racing.

Some examples of running and racing snowshoes include:

Atlas Race and Atlas Run
Redfeather Vapor
Dion Racers
Northern Lites Race Wave

If you prefer a wooden snowshoe, there are wooden racing snowshoes available too, like this 9 x 32 racer from Iverson Snowshoes.

Read More:
Choosing Running and Racing Snowshoes Starts Here
Gear Review: Atlas Race Snowshoes
Snowshoe Running in Alaska: A First-Timer’s Perspective

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snowshoe racers after race wearing Atlas snowshoes

Two racers are heading back after racing wearing their Atlas Race snowshoes. Photo: Paul Wowk

Technical Snowshoes

Technical snowshoes are built for navigating unpredictable terrain and have the most features on them. For this reason, these snowshoes are usually more pricey when compared to other models. But, they pack advanced features and are made of very durable materials.

Most ‘backcountry’ snowshoes that we discussed above fall into this technical snowshoe category. Snowshoes in the technical category may also feature the words “alpine,” “mountain,” “ascent,” or similar descriptions. Overall, if you plan to break your trail through deep snow, or steep and icy terrain, these snowshoes are a must-have.

Backcountry snowshoes feature properly sized bindings so that people wearing snowboard or winter boots can wear them easily. You will also frequently find multiple crampons underneath the toe and heel of the snowshoe and sometimes advanced grip on the frame of the snowshoe.

Some examples of technical snowshoes include:

MSR Lightning Ascent
Atlas Apex Mtn
GV Mountain Extreme
TSL Symbioz Elite Snowshoes

Read More:
Why Use Snowshoes on Your Next Mountaineering Adventure
The Versatile Atlas Apex-MTN Snowshoes: A Review
The Claw Patrol: MSR’s Lightning Ascent Snowshoes Review

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woman snowshoeing with MSR Lightning Ascents up a hill

MSR’s Lightning Ascent snowshoes have excellent traction for grip snowshoeing uphill. Multiple crampons are underneath the ‘shoe, and serrated edges line the frame for an impeccable technical snowshoe. Photo: Paul Wowk

Consider the Use

Now, let’s discuss the type of snow conditions and terrain in your area. These two factors will be critical as you determine how to choose the snowshoe that’s right for you. As you’ll notice, though, there may be some crossover between conditions and terrain within snowshoes.

The Snow Conditions

To select the right pair of snowshoes, you will need to take into account the snow conditions.

Deep Snow

Snowshoes with a smaller surface area tend to have difficulty in bottomless snow, especially powder snow that’s light and dry. So to help limit sinking in deep snow, you’ll want to look for snowshoes with a wide surface area. Length can also improve floatation (limit sinking in the snow). Just look at the MSR modular tail extenders.

Frequently, snowshoes with ‘backcountry’ in the name or description specialize in deep snow. Here are a few examples of modern snowshoes to consider for deep conditions:

Northern Lites Backcountry Snowshoes
Redfeather Trek or Pace
Louis Garneau Blizzard III
Atlas Montane

In addition to the modern models above, traditional wooden snowshoes are also an excellent option for deep snow because they have a larger surface area. The Huron snowshoe especially excels on flat terrain and deep snowpack. If you choose traditional snowshoes, be sure to take proper care of them, so they last.

Wet Snow

If you live in more humid areas or near the coast, the snow will most likely be wetter. In wet snow, you don’t typically sink quite as deep as powder snow, but floatation is still important regardless, especially if the snow is deeper than 12 inches.

There are a few extra considerations to keep in mind with wet snow, though. For example, the snow can more easily pile up on the top (decking) of the snowshoe and stick to the teeth underneath (crampons). In these cases, you may want to apply a coat of non-stick cooking spray or the more environmentally friendly ski wax to the decking and crampons of the snowshoe.

Read More:
Louis Garneau Blizzard Men’s and Women’s Snowshoes Review
Deep Snow Specialist: Review of the Gold 10 by Crescent Moon

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several types of snowshoes lined up on outdoor deck

So many options to choose from here! Photo: Jim Joque

Know Your Features

The next step on how to choose your snowshoe is the features. Knowing the different components will help you narrow down your options and make the right purchasing decision for you.

Bindings

In our humble opinion, we’ve decided to list bindings as the first feature on our list because it is the most important one.

There are several types of bindings. Here are a few common ones:

  • Nylon webbing straps are the most common straps found on entry-level snowshoes. They are great because they allow you to adjust your snowshoes for a great variety of footwear. On a side note, they tend to stretch over time, especially in wet and cold environments.
  • Rubber or polyurethane straps are the most common straps across the board. They are better than nylon ones because they don’t stretch due to elements and low temperatures.
  • Ratchet straps are very similar to those you can find on snowboards. They are easy to use and will allow you to adjust bindings according to your specific needs.
  • The BOA closure consists of a wire with a tightening mechanism. This binding is one of the easiest to use, especially when wearing gloves or mittens.

Binds are becoming more sophisticated over time. You may also see bindings that feature a complete foot closure/toe box, as well as advanced lacing systems to secure your feet.

Which binding you choose is a matter of personal preference. The most crucial part is that your foot fits correctly in the binding and that when you tighten the binding, you don’t feel any cinching, pinching, rubbing, or shifting.

For those with larger foot sizes, simple 2-strap or 3-strap nylon or polyurethane bindings are going to be the best bet. Bigger boot and shoe sizes can have trouble with bindings that feature a toe box or advanced closure. Thus, with larger foot sizes, the simpler the binding, the better.

Read More: Snowshoeing Footwear: Tips for Choosing Your Boot

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Altas Apex MTN Boa Closure Close Up

An example BOA closure on a Wrapp Helix binding on the Atlas Apex Mtn. This binding is straightforward to use, even with thick winter gloves. Photo: Paul Wowk

The Snowshoe Frame

The days of having only classic tubular aluminum frames are over. Instead, there are a few different options, as new snowshoes models have various designs and feature different frames.

Tubular Frames

If you plan to hike on surfaces that don’t require you to wear shoes with extra traction, snowshoes with tubular frames will do the job.

Tubular frames can increase surface area, but they can also cause snow to build on the snowshoe frame in deep snow if not done correctly. These types of frames are commonly found on hiking or recreational snowshoe models, like the Women’s Tubbs Xplore.

Serrated Frames

Some models offer frames that are serrated to offer increased traction. These snowshoes can be heavy depending on the frame materials, but the extra grip can be handy, especially when mountaineering. One example of a phenomenal snowshoe that also has a serrated frame is the MSR Lightning Ascent.

V-Tail or Pointed Tails

Some snowshoes have a tubular frame (or similar shape) near the toe but a pointed tail in the back. These frames are often designed to help snow build up on the frame and increase maneuverability in deep snow. An example of a v-tail snowshoe is the Women’s Pace from Redfeather, the first company to engineer the v-tail design.

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Redfeather Women's Pace snowshoe

The Women’s Pace has a v-tail frame for deep snow and maneuverability.  Photo: Redfeather

Plastic

To produce lightweight snowshoes, manufacturers have started to make decking out of plastic or any other rigid material. Plastic decking is light, and these snowshoes have a good grip, but the tradeoff is the frame’s stiffness. These snowshoes can often be very slippery, so tread carefully. An example of a snowshoe with plastic decking is the MSR Evo Trail.

Wood

Traditional snowshoes are often made of ash wood, which provides an incredibly quiet snowshoeing experience. Being silent in the snow makes wooden snowshoes an excellent option when hunting or observing wildlife. These frames also can naturally withstand frigid temperatures up to 30 degrees below zero.

Read More: Traditional Wooden Snowshoes: Shapes, Designs, and Names

In addition to the above frame materials, snowshoe frames and materials are continuing to evolve. For example, you can now find snowshoes with frames and decking made of recyclable and more environmentally-friendly materials, like the Crescent Moon Eva snowshoe.

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Crescent Moon Eva All-Foam

The Eva Foam snowshoe is a unique snowshoe option made of environmentally-friendly materials. Photo: Susan Wowk

The Traction

Another feature of snowshoes is the importance of traction, which is achieved via crampons or serrated edges. Recreational snowshoes typically have simple traction, whereas technical snowshoes tend to have advanced traction.

The crampons are usually made out of steel or any of its composites and aluminum. Steel crampons are stronger than aluminum, but aluminum is lighter than steel.  Most snowshoes have two or three crampons at the toe. You may also find crampons underneath the ball of the foot, which is helpful for descending. The serrated frame mentioned above also helps the snowshoe provide traction.

When evaluating how to choose your snowshoes, you’ll also want to consider whether the crampons are coated to prevent snow and ice build-up. Sometimes, if the crampons aren’t powder-coated, snowballs can build up in your crampons, especially in wet snow.

If you find that snow is building up on your snowshoes, you can always spray an environmentally friendly lubricant, such as ski wax, on your crampons to limit snow build-up. Just be careful not to put on only a light coat, so you don’t make your crampons too slippery.

Speaking of snow build-up, the traction provided on snowshoes is best used in conditions that have snow. If your trail is mostly in icy conditions, it’s recommended to use a traction device such as Yaktrax or Kahtoola to navigate these types of terrain. Using your snowshoes on icy surfaces can cause unnecessary wear to the steel or aluminum crampons underneath the snowshoe.

Read More: How to Choose the Best Trail: Tips for Learning When You Need Snowshoes

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man standing on icy trail with Yaktrax

If on an icy trail, it’s best to use a traction device such as Yaktrax Summit, so you don’t cause unnecessary wear to your snowshoe crampons. Photo: Susan Wowk

Climbing Bars

Finally, snowshoes can have climbing bars or heel lifts. If you are planning on regularly climbing steep terrain, consider getting snowshoes with these. The heel lift helps alleviate muscle fatigue in your calves when climbing steep hills and can be a lifesaver on a challenging trek with steep elevation changes.

Master The Sizing Of Your Snowshoe

Okay, so now that we’ve discussed how to assess snowshoe conditions, terrain, and features, it’s time for the final step in how to choose your snowshoes. Find your correct snowshoe size!

When considering sizing, it’s important to remember the main functionality of snowshoes is flotation or to prevent substantial sinking in the snow. Since the overall surface area of the snowshoe impacts floatation, you want to make sure you have the right snowshoe size to distribute your weight equally on the snowshoe. The size will, in fact, dictate the amount of flotation.

Weight Recommendations

If you look into the specs, every snowshoe has a recommended weight range and/or shoe size recommendations. Bear in mind that the weight does not only refer to your body weight but your body weight including all the gear you are going to carry with you.

The weight range is intended to limit sinking in the snow. Thus, it’s most important to consider when hiking in deep snow where you could sink. If you’re over the weight recommendation in 3 feet of snow, you could sink too deep and have an unpleasant snowshoe experience.

However, if you are snowshoeing on packed trails or shallow snow where you will not sink, there is more flexibility in the weight recommendations. Make sure to check whether the manufacturer’s weight guidelines are listed for packed or powder conditions.

Read More:
Four Kinds of Snowshoes For Big People and Heavy Loads
One Company Empowers Large-Bodied Snowshoers Through Size-Inclusive Practices

Fit

In addition, another aspect of finding the right snowshoe size is the binding’s fit on your foot. Sometimes, snowshoers will only follow the weight recommendations, but then end up purchasing a snowshoe that is far too large for their foot.

Many manufacturers will list shoe sizes for each snowshoe based on the binding. But, if they do not, make sure that the binding of your snowshoe will comfortably fit your foot. The snowshoes shouldn’t be so large that they cause you to deviate from your natural gait.

If you find a snowshoe that fits your foot correctly, but you do not fall exactly within that snowshoe’s weight requirements, that’s okay. You can always still use that snowshoe, as long as you’re not snowshoeing in extremely deep snow where you could sink to the point you can’t lift your foot.

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Overall – How to Choose Your Snowshoes

Hopefully, this guide will help you choose the snowshoes for your specific needs and requirements. Before you come to a final decision, make sure to go through the specs using the information above, and look for customer reviews. Also, check out our gear guides and reviews to explore options!

Have you used any of the recommendations above? What are your tips for how to choose the right snowshoe? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

This article was originally published on November 18, 2018, and was most recently updated by Susan Wowk to include new and relevant information on November 14, 2021.

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Author

  • Mariane Davids is a seasoned blogger who has helped launch numerous blogs in her online career. She is an expert in crafting excellent posts with great content and powerful headlines. Twitter: @DavidsMariane LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mariane-davids-285150160 Email: marianedavidswriting@gmail.com

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5 Comments

  • Beware of Tubbs Website Snowshoe Ratings
    I purchased Tubbs Frontier Men’s snowshoes (directly through their web site) this year and had a problem with the back strap repeatedly coming loose and the shoe falling off. I tried to post a review with a 1 (out of 5) star rating. Despite them verifying me as a buyer they would not publish the review. After perusing the ratings of their 20+ men’s snowshoes I noticed they only posted one review with less than 3 stars. One person must have tried almost every type snowshoe in their inventory as he posted the majority of ratings for most snowshoes. I do not trust their ratings/reviews.

    • Hi Robert, I’m so sorry to hear that you had that experience on the Tubbs website and with their snowshoe! Thank you for sharing your experience with us here, and I hope you have been able to have some other great snowshoeing experiences this season. -Susan, Snowshoe Mag Editor

      • Thank you for your kind words. My wife and I are 70, are in our first season of snowshoeing. and have had many great excursions. I ended up buying a better pair (the same as my wife, who purchased after my initial purchase) which have a more secure strap in the back and do not come off.

        • Robert, I’m so glad that you’ve enjoyed your first season of snowshoeing and that you were able to find a pair of snowshoes that better suited your needs. I am sorry to hear about your experience with Tubbs, and again, I do appreciate you sharing it with us. Here’s to a few more fun snowshoe adventures this season with your new snowshoes 🙂 – Susan, SSM Editor

      • i should add that after the first failed attempt at posting a review, I tried to sneak one through their censors by by giving a 3 star rating, but with similar negative language. Tubbs still would not post on their website. Additionally, they refused a return after two weeks of use. More reputable companies like REI Black Diamond would have easily rectified the situation.